It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
The Christmas season is now well and truly upon us. Within the first days of advent I had overdosed on cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger as I made gingerbread men and mince pies.
I also learnt that you cannot mull white wine, even if there is a recipe for it online, and several colleagues are convinced it will be nice (not naming names, but one plays 2nd oboe, and the other plays tuba).
No matter what your persuasion, music and the festival of Christmas are inextricably linked. From angels singing Peace On Earth, to Dickensian choirs huddled round the gas light in the snow, from all the glorious, beloved Willcox descants, to the Pogues irreverent, yet touching anthem to love at Christmas, the thought of a music-less Christmas, is as inconceivable as turkey without cranberry sauce.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales' first Christmas concert of the year was a mixture of tradition, not so traditional, and good old fashioned, much loved cheese - an absolute necessity at this time of year. It was great to have a well packed Hoddinott Hall for the live afternoon broadcast, and my mother and father - also great fans of this festive season - were listening in at home.
Under the baton of Garry Walker, we opened with Samuel Barber's Die Natali. This work fuses together many much loved traditional carols, my favourite being the very Eastern sounding rendition of We Three Kings. There's also a slightly unusual 7/8 version of Silent Night, but the horn and viola solos were played beautifully by Tim Thorpe and Alex Thorndike respectively.
Catrin Finch joined us for Pierné's Concertstück, and we then moved on to Daniel Jones' Five Pieces for Orchestra. In all honesty, I'm not too sure how this fitted into the Christmas theme, but as he was a codebreaker during the war perhaps there was a little Christmas tune secreted away in there somewhere.
After the interval it was strings only (joined by soprano, Elin Manahan Thomas, although the work can also be performed with a tenor) for Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis. Although not specifically about the birth of Christ, this Day of Birth cantata celebrates the wonder and mysticism of birth, told through the eyes of a new born. It is at times rhapsodic, and at times celebratory.
I think this is a beautiful example of Finzi's work; best known for his song settings, he also writes beautifully for strings. The work is a joy to play - there is something so intimate about the work, and yet by turns so exceptionally exuberant, that although not strictly 'Christmassy', I feel it to be a suitable inclusion in a Christmas programme.
Concluding with Leroy Anderson's Festival Overture put a smile on pretty much everyone's faces, although it includes so many festive earworms, it should come with a health warning. I left the studio with a mince pie in one hand, a piece of stollen in the other, and a warm, Christmassy feeling in my soul.
Next week - Messiah with the fabulous FXR!